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The Sixties at 50

Posted by on Tuesday, March 22, 2011 in Feature, Winter 2011.

The Sixties at 50 exhibit looks back at one of the most important decades in U.S. history through the rich collections of Vanderbilt’s libraries. This turbulent decade was rocked by a new counterculture and jolted by assassinations, leaving Americans divided by ideas about generation, race, gender, sexuality, war and politics. Amid abundant optimism for what could be, debates and protests sometimes led to riots.

Dean Connie Vinita Dowell chose this topic for the first major exhibit in the newly renovated Central Library.

Smothers Brothers
Tommy and Dick Smothers (above) starred in the “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” one of the most controversial TV shows of the Vietnam War era. The post-WWII demand for cheap transportation led to the creation of the tiny egg-shaped BMW Isetta (right), the first “bubble car.”


The Sixties will be remembered as the decade that changed our nation—when we reached for the stars and struggled to find the meaning of equality.

“This exhibit marks the beginning of a new exhibits program designed to bring to the Nashville community as well as those on campus a glimpse of the remarkable collections of Vanderbilt’s libraries,” Dowell said. I am grateful to Celia Walker (director of special projects), Jody Combs (assistant dean for information technology), our bibliographers and our Special Collections staff whose expertise made the exhibit possible.”

The exhibit brings a uniquely Vanderbilt perspective to the memorable era. “Our focus is on nationally significant stories that are drawn from our own collections,” Walker says. “Drawing on the rich resources of the library’s Special Collections, the exhibit examines the Vietnam War, civil rights, the space race, and the way communication changed through television and motion pictures. Utilizing interactive technology, the exhibits also take a look at what life was like at Vanderbilt during the Sixties and explore the challenges and triumphs that marked the decade.”

With the perspective of a half-century, the Sixties will be remembered as the decade that changed our nation—when we reached for the stars and struggled to find the meaning of equality.

The exhibit will continue through August 13, 2011.

President John F. Kennedy spoke at Vanderbilt’s 90th anniversary convocation on May 18, 1963, saying, “If the pursuit of learning is not defended by the educated citizen, it will not be defended at all.” Below, new touch screens in the Central Library help tell the story of The Sixties, and Cary Grant on the set of That Touch of Mink, directed by the late Delbert Mann, a Vanderbilt alumnus and trustee emeritus.

The Rev. Ralph Abernathy (center), flanked by Andrew Young, Bernard Scott Lee and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, speaks at a press conference following the April 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Top right, Delbert Mann’s casting notes from That Touch of Mink. Bottom right, a first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Apollo VII, the first manned Apollo mission, was crewed by Donn F. Eisele (left), Walter M. Schirra and Walter Cunningham. Their October 1968 flight featured the first live TV broadcast from a manned spacecraft.